After five years of connecting book lovers with books, East End Book Exchange owner Lesley Rains has decided it’s time to move on. But she’s hoping the popular independent bookstore in Bloomfield will be able to carry on, and has put it up for sale.
“It feels like the right moment,” Rains says. “I think I’ve taken it as far as I can.”
Rains founded the East End Book Exchange in the summer of 2011 as a pop-up bookstore, setting up a stall in a different neighborhood each weekend. She says she likes the treasure hunt aspect of buying books from a small store, where customers often find books they didn’t know they were looking for.
From the Strip District to Squirrel Hill to Garfield to Wilkinsburg to Braddock, Rains connected with a wide variety of book lovers, and finally opened a stall in the Pittsburgh Public Market in October 2011. The exchange moved to its current space on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield in November of 2012.
In that short time, East End Book Exchange became a community spot that hosts events featuring local and national authors, poetry readings and book launch parties. Rains says she plans to continue to operate as usual while seeking a buyer, and the events calendar will continue for the time being. She just renewed the lease, she adds, so the store isn’t in danger of closing in the near future.
East End Book Exchange saw success in a marketplace where independent booksellers fight against large chains for customers’ attention. But despite the pervasive presence of large bookstores and online retailers like Amazon.com, independent booksellers are on the rise over the past five years or so. According to The New York Times, the American Booksellers Association‘s membership has grown about 30 percent since 2009, to just over 2,200 stores nationwide. There are 88 ABA member bookstores in Pennsylvania, and 14 in the Pittsburgh area, including EEBX.
Rains cautions any would-be buyers of her store that it’s a lot of hard work. “There’s more to owning a bookstore than being around best-selling authors.” She adds that she hopes East End Book Exchange’s next owner would be someone who’s not only an avid reader, but who understands the dynamics of running such a business.
“We do have a lot of very loyal regulars, and they deserve someone who is going to give [the store] the energy that it needs.”